Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

I’d rather be facing van Persie than lying on a beach: McPake

Northern Ireland's new recruit James McPake

James McPake could have been forgiven for wanting to head off on a relaxing holiday as soon as the final whistle blew in the Scottish Cup final.

Despite scoring in the game his hopes of lifting the trophy were crushed when Hearts beat Hibernian 5-1 in the Edinburgh derby decider.

Nobody would have been any the wiser had the Hibs skipper threw off his boots, packed his shorts and suncream into a bag and boarded the next available airplane to a far flung hotspot.

Instead less than 24 hours after that Hampden Park humbling Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was unveiling the 27-year-old in his squad for this Saturday’s friendly against Holland in Amsterdam.

So it’s like the falling off a bike theory for McPake — the best thing to do is get straight back on — and it’s the pitch rather than the beach for him.

“I’ll have a month off after the game on Saturday night. I could have gone away on holiday already, but I did manage to get a few days away with my wife last week after the Scottish Cup final,” said McPake.

“I’d far rather be in Amsterdam getting the chance to play for Northern Ireland against Holland than be lying on a beach anyway.

“You look at the players they have, Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sniejder up front, it’s a challenge, but you want to test yourself against the best and those guys are among the best in the world.”

Born on the outskirts of Glasgow, McPake did have ambitions to play for his home country, but he had never put all his eggs in one basket.

Well aware that the rules meant his County Antrim-born grandfather qualified him to play for Northern Ireland, McPake wasn’t giving up on international football until all avenues had been exhausted.

“For about three years there’s been rumours of me being close to a Scotland call-up, but it never came,” he said.

“I had a bad time with injuries for a while, so that might have played a part in me not getting called.

“I can’t wait forever on Scotland calling me up and I always knew that I qualified to play for Northern Ireland.

“I was sitting down with my agent a couple of months ago and I mentioned the Northern Ireland link. He said that he knew Michael O’Neill and asked me was I happy for him to put a call in.

“Things moved quite quickly after that. I was impressed with what Michael had to say, I know Sammy Clingan well and he said he’d enjoyed working with Michael, even though it had only been one game so far.

“I spoke to Ivan Sproule as well and although he hasn’t been involved in a while he said that it’s a good bunch of lads, so I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

Clingan was a team-mate of |||McPake’s at Coventry City before he was sent to Hibernian on-loan back in January.

After the Sky Blues’ relegation to League One he is available at a knockdown price of £100,000.

Hibs are expected to make an attempt to sign him, but McPake has written off anything that has been said about him in recent days as ‘paper talk’ claiming that he hasn’t been told anything.

Instead his focus is on staking a claim for a regular place in O’Neill’s plans.

“One of the important things for me to ask Michael was that with a lot of players being ruled out of this game was I just going to be a stop-gap,” said McPake.

“He said no, that I was in and then it would be up to me to take my chance, but that he saw me as being part of the squad.

“As a player you can’t really ask for much more than that so I’m happy to commit myself. It’s not a case of me just coming in and having a look at things. Now I’m in I want to stay.”

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